Albany residents Shirley and Don Nelson would like the state to impose a moratorium on wind farm development until more studies are done on potential health problems. The Nelsons have been strong opponents to the proposed wind turbine farm in Lowell. The Nelsons live in Lowell on the eastern side of the mountain range, and are some of the closets residents to the proposed project at fewer than 4,500 feet.
Green Mountain Power (GMP) would like to construct a wind farm on Lowell Mountain with 16-24 turbines that are more than 400 feet tall at the tip of the blade.
The Nelsons cite a study by Doctor Michael Nissenbaum of Northern Maine Heath Center, who looked at 20 people who live near the Mars Hill turbine farm in Maine.
In the study he found that 93 percent of the people he spoke to had ill effects including feelings of anger, depression, hypertension, and increased headaches.
GMP spokesman Dotty Schnure said she had not read the study, but questions how it was conducted and if it is scientific. She cites information which indicated those who are opposed to wind development tend to have more symptoms, where those who are not opposed do not suffer symptoms.
Sound was a main source of complaints as were shadows, by those opposed to wind turbines. But Schnure points out that the Vermont Public Service Board has very strict regulation on sound, even more stringent than the World Health Organization's requirements.
Annette Smith is the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a non-profit organization that does many things including helping citizens understand the regulatory process. She maintains that there are health effects from the noise created by turbines, and the larger the turbine, the more problems are created.
Smith says that state officials are refusing to listen to any information regarding health effects. And she says it's difficult to go up against the energy industry because of the power it has.
Nissenbaum and Doctor Robert McCunney of Massachusetts General Hospital attended a wind turbine forum in at the Rutland Regional Medical Center Thursday, May 6, to discuss wind turbine noise studies that have been completed.
Although the doctors came to opposing conclusions, the both agreed that the sound produced by the wind turbines can cause sleep disturbance in some, and sleep disturbance can lead to health problems. McCunney concluded that noise from wind turbines does not pose a risk of hearing loss, or any other direct adverse health effect.
"Some people may become annoyed by the sound of turbines but this is not a disease," he said during the forum that was videotaped and placed on You Tube.
The major cause of concern, he said is the fluctuating nature of noises. For those who find noise annoying it is a reaction that depends primarily on personal characteristics as opposed to the intensity of the noise level, he explained.
"Sub-audible and low frequency noise and infra sound from wind turbines do not present a health risk," he stated. "Wind turbine syndrome is neither a new disease nor accepted medical diagnosis. Symptoms reflect noise annoyance."
McCunney used several studies done in the U.S. and Europe on the effect of the noise from turbines before coming to his conclusion.
But Nissenbaum says those studies were done on areas around smaller turbines. The larger, industrial turbines grouped together create much more noise, he said, adding that further scientific studies are needed.
Nissenbaum said the forum was not about "pro-wind or anti-wind", because that is "a political and economic issue." He said the question is if the turbines are going up, where they should go. "To close the door at this point and say no research is needed is irresponsible."
The question of how far large industrial turbines should be set back from residents to have sound not be heard went unanswered.
Nissenbaum criticized the Vermont Public Service Board for using averaging when making a determination of noise levels allowed. The concept of averaging takes the noise when the wind is not blowing and averages the sound with the times when the turbines are really spinning, Nissenbaum pointed out. Nissenbaum says this means the sound could at times be louder than acceptable levels. But McCunney said that averaging is acceptable and used by OSHA and the EPA "for all sorts of standards."
McCunney said he is struggling with the fact that different noises such as trucks or air traffic created more noise than turbines. He maintains that annoyance is based on personality traits, and annoyance leads to the health effect complaints.